Joy Knows No Expiration Date: A Nursing Home Wedding

A man and woman meet. She likes him, and he likes her. Their fingers intertwine. His lips meet hers. In time, he pops the question. She says “Yes,” and before you know it, wedding bells are ringing. It happens every day. It happened to Ed and Mary. But there was one thing rather unusual about their courtship: he was 82 and she 74, and this was the first, and the last, marriage for both.

Ed Bird, my great-great uncle, had been looking for the right woman his whole life. And what a life it had been. An experienced hobo, with wanderlust coursing through his veins, he’d hop a train and vanish for months at a time. God knows where all he went, if even the Almighty could keep track of him. Though he always had a few dollars in his pocket, he’d knock on the back door of restaurants at sunrise to beg a meal from the cook. No sense in spending money when people were generally willing to share. A farming accident had crippled his right hand when he was a young man, but that was no deterrent to him finding odd jobs, roughnecking or whatnot, all over the state of Texas. He knew where the finest fishing holes were (especially those behind “No Trespassing” signs); knew where to lead his dogs for the best coon hunting; knew how to lead a foot-loose, fancy-free life. What he didn’t know was where “she” was–this Adam’s missing Eve. Until one day.

Ed and Mary were residents of Woodland Springs Nursing Home, in Waco, Texas. A retirement home may not be the typical place where Cupid’s arrow flies, but love acknowledges no boundaries of place or age. The front lobby of the nursing home was the garden of their courtship. Bird poured on the charm. His and Mary’s every waking hour was spent side-by-side, talking about the separate lives they’d led. Every conversation and every day drew those separate lives closer together. Mary, who said that she’d never found someone who suited her like he did, admitted that the first time she saw Ed, if he’d have asked to kiss her, she would have thrown caution to the wind and let him. And soon enough the aged Romeo was, stealing kisses every time they were alone in the lobby.

Before long, the two grew inseparable. Once, when Mary’s blood pressure skyrocketed, requiring a brief hospital stay, Ed was determined not to leave her by herself. He took a cab to the hospital every morning so he could be by her side. In fact, the only time he left her alone was after she happily said, “Yes!” to his proposal of marriage. Ed exited the nursing home front door to walk two miles to downtown Waco, where he purchased a wedding ring for his beloved Mary.

ImageWhen the big day came, on November 3, 1979, five months after the couple had met, residents and guests crowded in for the ceremony. Mary Alff, the woman of whom Ed once said, “I don’t think about anybody but her,” became Mary Bird. He had her, the woman of his dreams, finally as his own dear, loving wife, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh. Ed told a reporter, “There will be no separations and no divorces. I’m going to love her as long as I live, as long as the good Lord lets me live.” And the good Lord indeed gave this happy groom a few more years of life to enjoy with the woman for whom he had been looking his whole life.

When I was nine years old, Ed and Mary wed. I have always loved their story, even more so now, thirty-four years later. For I must admit that there have been times in my life when, surrendering to the darkness, I suspected that the best days of my life were behind me, that God had no plans of joy and challenge and contentment for me anymore. But the Lord of hope says otherwise. The sweet and simple story of Ed and Mary says otherwise, too. God is well-known for delaying his children’s happiness, so that, once it comes, we might enjoy and appreciate it all the more.

Looking at the faded black-and-white picture of Ed and Mary, smiling at one another on their wedding day, reminds me that joy has no expiration date.

(Some details taken from Waco Tribune-Herald, in an article written by David Barron, date unknown)

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